The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

mushroom fricassee with butternut squash fondant

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There’s a common misconception that “healthy” foods are more expensive than other foods.

That perception is encouraged by the fact that manufacturers of unhealthy foods receive billions in taxpayer subsidies each year whilst producers of healthy foods do not. This is how the market is distorted in favour of the multinational food producers, and why highly processed, unhealthy food often seems the cheaper option compared to freshly picked, unprocessed food.

Subsidies for the food industry amount to many millions of US dollars and EU Euros each year. In the US, for example, a huge amount of taxpayers’ money goes into subsidising large-scale agribusinesses growing crops like corn and soy, a lot of which is grown from genetically modified seed. These generous subsidies encourage massive overproduction of corn and soy, meaning the growers can sell them below their true cost, at the subsidised price.

Corn and soy also happen to be two of the key ingredients in many ready meals and take away foods. Indeed, the invention of high fructose corn syrup stemmed directly from the problem originally created by the overproduction of corn in the US. Thus it is that indirect beneficiaries of US food subsidy policy include multinationals such as McDonalds, KFC and Burger King.

By contrast, the US Government spends very little supporting producers of fresh fruit and vegetables. This is a particularly astonishing fact because it is the same government department (Agriculture), that is responsible for administering food industry subsidies and for promoting healthier eating.

A similar picture can be seen in the European Union’s food subsidy policy, where the long-derided Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) continues to encourage and reward overproduction, particularly in areas such as poultry and dairy farming.

The giant multinational Nestle, for example, has benefited to the tune of millions of Euros thanks to dairy industry subsidies. Here in the UK, the single biggest beneficiary of CAP subsidies is the multinational sugar company Tate & Lyle.

The consequences of a diet of cheap, highly processed unhealthy food has led to huge strains on our healthcare systems. Many of the products being propped up through government subsidies are the same ones responsible, in part, for the so-called obesity epidemic and the huge rise in type 2 diabetes amongst the very taxpayers who unwittingly fund those subsidies.

Isn’t it about time that our governments started joining the dots between their policies on food subsidy and the rocketing costs to society of providing diet-related healthcare?

girolles and porcinibutternut squash growingbutternut squash

For this hearty vegan recipe I used butternut squash grown on my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, along with a selection of seasonal mushrooms. If you can get your hands on some wild mushrooms so much the better, otherwise use organic shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, or use a combination of whatever is available.

The use of dried porcini in the stock imbues the dish with a beautiful depth of flavour.

Autumnal vegan comfort food at its best!

mushroom fricassee with butternut squash fondant


for the stock

250 ml vegetable stock
1 tsp tomato purée
20 g dried porcini mushrooms

for the fricassee

300 g organic mushrooms, wiped clean and halved or sliced, depending on size
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp organic tomato purée
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped

for the butternut squash fondant

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds and seed pulp removed
150 ml vegetable stock
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil


1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F, gas mark 5).

2. First make the stock to be added to the fricassee. Heat the vegetable stock in a pan to simmering point. Remove from the heat, stir in the tomato purée and add the dried porcini. Stir again, and leave to infuse.

3. Cut two rounds out of the butternut squash flesh, each about 2 cm deep. Any unused butternut squash can be used to make a soup (such as this one).

4. Heat the olive oil in a casserole or other oven proof dish over a medium heat. Carefully place the butternut squash rounds into the oil. Cook for two minutes or until they start to colour then carefully flip each round over and cook for a further two minutes. Pour in the vegetable stock and then place the dish in the pre-heated oven. Cook for 20 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

5. Meanwhile, for the fricassee, heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped onion. Cook, stirring, for five minutes until the onion has softened and become translucent. Add the garlic, sea salt, ground cumin, turmeric and ground coriander and stir, then add the mushrooms. Cook for two minutes, stirring, then add the porcini mushrooms with their soaking stock. Stir to combine and lower the heat. Cook for a further 7-8 minutes, stirring, until the fresh mushrooms are tender and the stock has reduced and thickened. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the chopped fresh coriander, reserving a little for garnish, and squeeze over the lemon juice.

6. To serve, place a butternut squash fondant on each plate, surrounded by a generous helping of mushroom fricassee, sprinkled with the reserved chopped coriander.

Categories: gluten free, vegan

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16 replies

  1. I regretted not growing butternut squash this year as last year the butternuts lasted me ages. My other squash this year were a bit less productive than last years butternuts, though I am looking forward to trying vegetable spaghetti. As for governmental policy concerning where the interests of big business and the interests of the people may not coincide, it seems a sadly predictable ‘given’ that government will support those hugely profitable industries that are the source of public harm, and then blame and punish those individuals who have been harmed.

  2. Thanks for your comments. What a shame you decided not to grow butternuts this year. I’m sure this recipe would work well with other winter squash, such as pumpkin, acorn squash or onion squash. I’m just off for a few hours weeding and tidying up on my allotment and I’d be very happy to be coming home to a plate of this. 🙂

  3. This is just the sort of food I love. I also have lots of butternut squash from my allotment too. Thanks for posting such a delicious recipe!

  4. Yes, you are so right! I hear all the time people say things like, “We can’t afford vegetables.” All while eating junk that costs more! And while our junk food is subsidized, it still is way more expensive than fresh fruits and vegetables…it’s all about, as you said, perception. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather pay 99 cents for 8 ounces of mushrooms than $4.99 for a 12 ounce bag of potato chips! It makes me a little “cra cra” as the kids say, today!

    Oh, yes, and the mushrooms look marvelous! Now that I’m done ranting….

  5. Thanks for your comments. I think we’re in total agreement! 🙂

  6. It’s a well balanced system really – use taxes to subsidise the foods that are linked to health problems, then use more taxes to fund the healthcare needed to treat those health problems… probably keeps a number of civil servants in work.

    The combination of squash and mushrooms sounds good, especially with the coriander and spices.

    • Hi Sarah

      Yes, depending on how you look at it, we are made to pay twice, or arguably three times, for all this junk food and its consequences. There are, however, some powerful vested interests that make a lot of profit from this corrupt system of government subsidies, and they will no doubt continue to do all they can to promote and defend that system.


  7. I love your food and your politics, am making your corn fritters later. Thank you !

  8. A delicious sounding recipe and so beautifully photographed. I’m going to try and grow butternut squashes on my plot next year. In the meantime I have some ukichi kuri and Turk’s turbans which would no doubt work, although in different shapes.

  9. Thanks for stopping by my blog and leading me to yours. This recipe looks fabulous – simple ingredients but beautifully prepared. I think you are doing the best one can do to counter the current food culture – that is stick with what you believe and share with as many as you can. Things are changing, and I think all our individual efforts will help that change to continue.

    • Hi Hilda, and thank you for your comments. You’ve expressed it so well – there are a great many of us that do care about the quality and provenance of the food we eat, and potentially we have the collective power to bring about change for the better.



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